Butch Walker is the musical equivalent of a modern-day superhero. By day, he works as a well-respected, highly sought-after songwriter and producer for some of the biggest names in the music business. By night his alter-ego takes centre stage as the frontman for the now defunct pop/punk outfit Marvelous 3 (of Freak of the Weak fame) and as a critically-acclaimed solo artist with a devoted fan base.
It is this dichotomy between whiz-kid producer and the promise of fame, fortune and celebrity that makes the Butch Walker story as compelling as that of any comic book protagonist. Throw in the fact that Walker’s latest solo album, “Sycamore Meadows”, was inspired by the loss of his Malibu home and all of its contents in the 2007 California wildfires and you have the classic comic book theme of a life-altering or unexpected event turning an individual’s normal life into something incredible.
These days, Walker’s life must be just that – pretty incredible. With an impressive résumé of production and songwriting credits to his name, Walker kick-offs an East Coast solo tour tonight at Toronto’s Lee’s Palace. The tour comes hot on the heels of his recent appearance on the ‘Ellen’ show where he performed a duet with pop superstar and collaborator/friend Pink that resulted in a huge spike in Walker’s album sales on iTunes.
While Walker has worked with everyone from Avril Lavigne and Lindsay Lohan to the infamous Tommy Lee, he chooses to keep his wish list of potential collaborators close to the vest saying, “I always feel stupid giving away my secret crushes…some things have to be kept inside.”
He does admit that the approach to working with his pop star clients differs significantly from the method that went in to making ‘Sycamore Meadows’.
“They couldn’t be more polarized,” explains Walker of the music making process. “I don’t look at what I do for other artists as any reflection on my own music, really. My personal tastes and influences aren’t usually what I do for my day job.”
One listen to the soulful and deeply personal songs on the album and you get the sense that this is the record Walker has been hoping to make since he left Cartersville, Georgia for L.A. in the late 80’s. “If I were to make Avril or Pink, or even a rock band like All Time Low or whatever sound like Blood on the Tracks era Dylan, well that would be a mess now wouldn’t it,” he offers in relation to his mainstream pop production work.
It is interesting to note that while Walker seems completely comfortable moving between the big machine of the major label music industry and the indie approach he has taken with his own material, he has some strong opinions about the current music environment. Just take a listen to A Song For The Metalheads and you’ll get a sense of Walker’s take:
The record business is fucked,
but it’s kinda funny
It’ll separate a boy from a man
You can buy every copy of your record with your money
but you’d be your only fan…
“Overall, it is in the worst place it has ever been…for the major labels,” says Walker. “As far as artists go? It’s the best time EVER. You can do more of what you want and be accepted outside of the rule-book that was always sitting on the desk of the AnR guy. If you are wondering what AnR stand for, it stands for ‘Alcohol n Restaurants’.”
When Walker brings his extensive songbook and touring band (dubbed His Gang of Merry Musical Melodymakers) to town, fans can expect a little bit of everything from the live experience. He’s been known to put on an incredible live show and dig deep in to his solo catalogue, Marvelous 3 material and eclectic covers ranging from Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody to Kelly Clarkson’s hit Since U Been Gone.
When asked to disclose any songs by other artists he wishes he’d written, Walker’s diverse and quirky taste becomes evident. “I would have to say there’s a book of them, but I think (former Men At Work frontman) Colin Hay’s “Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You” or Ben Folds’ “Fred Jones pt.2” is as close to perfect as you can get to making me bawl like a little fucking schoolboy,” admits Walker. “On the other hand,” he adds, “that ‘Su-su-Sudio’ jam by Phil Collins is pretty rad.”
One thing is for sure. Once Walker gets done touring in support of his latest solo project it will be time to return to the anonymity of the studio and the long list of artists requesting his services. “I think of it as a day job. You don’t wear that stupid green Starbucks apron when you go out at night with your friends, but it’s something you have to wear at your job,” Walker offers as an admittedly weak analogy.
For the sake of his fans, let’s hope Butch Walker finds more time to hang up the apron and bring out his front-man alter ego to deliver future artistically satisfying efforts like “Sycamore Meadows”.